I have had a pretty wonderful day. I planted my butt in my chair yesterday to really get this first book underway and it seems to have done the trick. Yesterday, 10 hours of work produced 7,000 words. This morning 90 minutes produced a further 2,000. I have found the flow state!
But there has been something in the back of my mind the entire time. Something that has made showing up, writing this book, sharing extracts from it with absolute glee... well it's made it a little odd.
Today would have been my father's 78th birthday. I say would have been because he died 14 years ago this December, at the age of 64.
Yes, both my parents died in December. Both died before they made it to retirement. Both very fundamental reasons why I was not prepared to 'live' the way I was, working 60+ hours every week, feeling exhausted and overwhelmed, in the hope that one day it would get easier and I would live a more well-rounded life.
Tomorrow is never promised, to any of us. I learned that one the hard way.
Now before anyone offers condolences on my loss etc etc, know that by the time my father died, when I was 21, I hadn't seen him for more than a decade. Whether you say I chose not to see him or he abandoned me, there was no relationship there.
But one of the legacies he left me with was my immense fear of visibility.
For reasons that may be obvious to many of you, my father ceased to be part of my life on 16th November 1994 when my childhood home was sold and we all went our separate ways. The last words he ever said to/about me where that I was probably wasn't his. There was no love lost. I take responsibility, even though I was ten years old and should be more forgiving. Also, anyone who has heard the story of what happened the night I found out my father had died, well it's a Leah-special for sure.
When we left, we were scared, my mum and I. We moved to our house and we hid. For a very long time.
I'm talking telephone numbers ex-directory, not listed on the public electoral roll, not connecting with anyone who knew my father, not going to the area of town he lived in. When I was 16 I changed my name; my father's surname was not Steele, I chose it to honour my grandfather, who was more of a role model than my own father ever was.
For years I would cry on Bastille Day, because my father's birthday wasn't just in my mind it was prominently highlighted on every wall calendar we ever had.
I cried for what I hadn't had, for the memories I still held. But more honestly, I cried for myself. For how immediate the nightmares could still be, for all the ways in which he legacy haunted me.
On the one hand I was a very bright and determined girl who had figured out a career path and was doggedly following it to the exclusion of all doubters outside of my own head.
But I was still terrified of being seen. I didn't believe that anyone could truly like or love me, I was confused when people in my classes thought I was funny or witty, because I thought I was pretty stupid. I went bright red whenever I had to speak.
It was something I made headway with; I stood up and delivered a moot even though I was bright red. My post-graduate degree taught me presentation skills on an incredible level.
Over the years I have worked again and again to let go of the stories that have kept me small.
When I first qualified as a solicitor I was required to have a professional headshot and my full name and bio on the company website. I had a hissy fit caused by fear and tried to refuse. I was simply told 'it's happening, crack on' and gritted my teeth. I think you can probably see how much I was grimacing in that first picture!
The voice in my head that says 'no-one wants to listen to you anyway'. The blushes and stuttering my words. The self-conscious awareness of my own breathing when I tried to speak.
Instead I started trying on new styles. I was the trainer with the jaunty off-script style who would chat to the room and throw out challenges and competitions. I internally said 'fuck you' to anyone who left me less-than-glowing feedback and forced myself to focus on the positive.
But the real change came a few years back, when my mentor pointed out that your bullshit only holds you back and that that's selfish when you have people to reach and lives to change.
That's why today, I'm smiling gently to myself. It's Bastile Day again, my father would have been 78. And here I am, writing my first book and talking about it like it's any other day of the week.
Because I know now that the words I use, the stories I share, they make a difference.
If you think my fear of being seen has disappeared, you would be dead wrong and every cyber bullying and trolling incident, every person who clicks 'spam' on my emails (that they signed up for!) or who sends me a shitty note calling me self absorbed (damn it's been a fun few months in Leah-land) pops up it reinforces all the reasons why it's not safe, not r reasonable, definitely egotistical, for me to stand up and be counted. And every time I have to do the work to put the gremlins back in the box.
I think it's worth it.
I hope you do too.